If there is one idea that is driving innovation in today's mining industry, then surely it is sustainability. Mining has traditionally been known to be an energy, carbon and water intensive industry, and yet mining is also key to producing so many of the materials that will facilitate the world's move toward electrification and decarbonisation.
The big question for the industry, therefore, is how to maintain - or even increase - production while developing more sustainable, low carbon business practices.
Metso Outotec believes its growing suite of ‘Planet Positive' products and services can be a game changer when it comes to its clients' carbon footprints and their ability to continue production in the most sustainable way possible.
"Sustainability, and climate change in particular, is clearly a very major challenge for the world and one where the mining industry has a pretty central role to play," says Marius Verwoerd, Vice President, Sustainability at Metso Outotec.
According to Verwoerd, this role manifests itself in two ways: "One is that the resources produced by the mining industry are necessary for the energy transition to happen, because we will need a lot of extra copper, nickel, lithium etc. Secondly, the industry itself has a meaningful carbon footprint of its own and that will need to be managed."
Metso Outotec has set ambitious targets to achieve net zero emissions from its own operations by 2030. But where the lasting impact will be made is working with customers to improving their operations to be more sustainable, and more energy, water and carbon efficient.
Indeed, with climate change and sustainability moving up the political agenda in recent years, licenses to operate are often dependent on a company's ability to prove its decarbonisation credentials. Given that production of battery and other metals that are key to delivering the energy transition will need to increase, it is clear that only a holistic approach to emissions reduction will work. That is where the ‘Planet Positive' approach comes in.
"We think we have a leading role to provide customers with products and services to help them achieve these climate change goals as quickly as possible," says Olivier Guyot, Head of Technology and Innovation at Metso Outotec. "What ‘Planet Positive' means is that we have products and services that are demonstrably more efficient than the baseline technology in use in most places.
"So Planet Positive is more than just a slogan. The products and services have been assessed internally and externally, and are based on relevant industry criteria with ambitious thresholds to help customers achieve their climate change targets."
There is a heavy focus from Metso Outotec research and development on growing and enriching the portfolio of sustainable products, and growing the proportion of orders coming from Planet Positive products and services. Verwoerd says that the company plans to grow sales in this part of the business "more quickly than overall sales".
‘Planet Positive' products incorporate nearly all stages of mining production and recovery, from crushing, grinding to separation, filtration, and hydrometallurgy, while the services element also covers vital repair and upgrade services to existing plants.
Reducing energy consumption is a benefit that can be found throughout the portfolio, especially in grinding. For instance, the HRC™e high pressure grinding rolls (HPGR) and Vertimill® stirred mill deliver better energy efficiency compared to similar equipment, without sacrificing performance.
Among the specific products already available is the Concorde Cell™, which outperforms existing high-intensity pneumatic flotation technology, resulting in greater recovery of fine and ultra-fine particles, while simultaneously reducing energy and water consumption.
Reduced water consumption is a key benefit of the Metso Outotec Tailings Management Solutions, with which tailings are dewatered from low solids density to medium and high density. The tailings are then pumped to a filter plant for further dewatering through pressure filtration. The whole process reduces both costs and environmental impact.
But ‘Planet Positive' is not only about the products that Metso Outotec has developed, it is also about the services it provides clients. As part of the offering, it incorporates new technology into existing equipment to improve performance and extend lifecycles, while optimizing wear parts on a bespoke basis helps customers lower energy, water, and fuel consumption.
"There's obvious value in refurbishing and maintaining equipment because from a circular economy point of view you extend the life of that equipment," says Guyot. "The more services you offer to keep things running instead of replacing equipment the better. That's one of the clear points of developing services in that direction."
Guyot adds that the development of these products and services for Metso Outotec's clients is not designed to give anyone a competitive advantage but is often aimed at improving the efficiency of the whole industry.
"We are not playing this game against each other," he explains. "We're competing together against climate change. It's important to understand that to successfully win, the solutions coming from every supplier should be welcomed due to the size of the challenge."
Verwoerd echoes this point, explaining that the development of sustainable solutions such as ‘Planet Positive' products and services also helps to improve the image of an industry that has too often been seen as energy intensive and out of step with the green agenda.
"The industry tends to be seen as a whole," he says. "So poor performance by one of the players has consequences for everybody. And in that sense, this is really an issue for the entire industry. It is not an issue where people or companies should be looking to directly compete with each other.
"So it's actually in everyone's interest for the broader mining industry to be seen as a constructive player and one that contributes towards sustainability. Our role is pretty much derived from that position."
Moving forward, Meto Outotec is working to develop ‘Planet Positive' flow sheets, which will further improve the integration of its existing products and services.
"That's the next step for us," confirms Guyot. "To work not only with the individual pieces of equipment or services but have a ‘Planet Positive flowsheet. That means that yes, of course, you can already achieve more energy efficiency or use less water individually with a single piece of equipment. But when it's put inside an existing process, or concentrator or circuit, how much more can you amplify the potential?? You need to think holistically, which is what we're working on."